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Out of Dog Shampoo? A Vet Explains Why You Should Never Use People Shampoo + What To Use Instead

Pet pros and influencers explain how to use everything from vinegar to oatmeal to get Fido clean — safely

If you have a dog, you know the scenario all too well: You’re out for a walk with Fluffy, or letting her run around the backyard, and you turn your attention away for one second. The next thing you know your pal is rolling in something unidentifiable. Too late to stop her, you call her over and boy does she stink. First stop: bathtub. The only problem? You’re fresh out of dog shampoo. If you’re thinking: ‘I have no dog shampoo what can I use,’ we found the answers for you and yes there ARE some alternatives and spoiler alert: none of them include dish soap. 

Keep reading for all the do’s and don’ts of keeping your dog clean both with and without the proper supplies. 

Why use dog shampoo at all?

 Owner washing dog with shampoo
RossHelen/Getty

Dog grooming products are designed to match the pH level of canine skin, which is typically more neutral than human skin. Using soaps designed for people can therefore be harmful for a dog’s coat and skin, explains Kurt Dennis, manager of Pet Services and Pet Safety at Pet Supplies Plus. If you washed your face with hand soap every day, it wouldn’t take long for your skin to become dry and irritated. The same concept applies here – soap products that haven’t been specifically designed for dogs can be too harsh and strip away their moisture barrier. This includes even gentle products, such as baby shampoo and the type of Dawn dish soap used for wildlife rehabilitation. “So if you have it on hand, it’s important to use shampoo and conditioner specifically formulated for dogs,” says Dennis. “It will keep their pH levels balanced, which keeps their skin and coat healthy with natural oils.”  

In short, stick with products made for dogs. But what happens when you’re completely out? 

4 ways to clean your dog when you have no shampoo

Dog in basin with soapy suds
Martin Poole/Getty Images

Let’s say your pooch has run through a few too many puddles, rolled in poop or splashed through the mud and you don’t have any dog products on hand to soap them off. “If you don’t have dog shampoo handy, I suggest rinsing your dog thoroughly with water only,” Dennis advises. “You can also use pet wipes if you’re on the go or in a hurry.” 

Why stick with water? Again, it goes back to that fragile pH. According to Dr. Jo Myers, a veterinarian at pet telehealth company Vetster, using other products that aren’t specifically formulated for dogs just isn’t worth the risk of creating skin problems. “Frequent or long-term use of human shampoo may dry or irritate your pet’s skin, or even alter the pH enough to lead to bacterial or fungal infections,” Dr. Myers explains. In these instances, it’s best to stick with a good rinse-and-brush to deal with the dirt and odor until you’re able to use actual dog shampoo. 

But sometimes water just isn’t cutting it, in which case, don’t panic — social media accounts abound with hacks for when you have no dog shampoo and want to know what you can use instead.

1. I have no dog shampoo what can I use? A vinegar spray

TikTok user David Hurtado recommends using a vinegar rinse to eliminate odors. Simply mix one part distilled white vinegar with one part water and a splash of lemon juice in a spray bottle. Then lightly spray the mixture onto your dog’s coat, combing through as you do. Allow his coat to air dry, and voila — all clean, no shampoo needed. 

@davidhurven

This is better than a shower with Shampoo 🐶#dogsoftiktok #fyp #foryou #tips

♬ Funny – Gold-Tiger

2.Try this DIY dog wipe spray

If you’re looking for something a little more hydrating, try this DIY dog wipe spray from TikTok user Kristin Johnsen. To fill up a 16-ounce spray bottle, you’ll need: 

  • 1.5 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons aloe vera gel
  • 2 teaspoons castile soap 

Kristin recommends improving the scent of the spray by adding a few drops of sweet almond extract and orange extract as well. Before doing so, though, it’s important to make sure your dog doesn’t have any sensitivities or allergies to essential oils. 

Mix all ingredients together and you’re good to go! Thanks to the hydrating aloe vera gel, this spray is especially good for dogs with dry, sensitive skin.

3. No dog shampoo? Use a homemade oatmeal rinse

TikTok user @gonaturalwithkeila recommends using oatmeal and baking soda to create a dog-friendly scrub guaranteed to remove grime and dirt. You’ll need the following ingredients: 

  • 1.5 cups warm water
  • ¼ cup ground oatmeal
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • 1 tsp mild baby soup
  • Cedarwood essential oil

Thoroughly stir the mixture before pouring it through a strainer to eliminate the oatmeal pieces and you’re all set to bathe your pup. 

4. Try this method: Towel off & brush 

Many pet owners on TikTok swear by the simplest solution of all: Simply toweling off your pooch and thoroughly combing through their coat to pull out dirt and grime. Of course, this works best when there is so seriously offending smell or unsanitary debris. A thorough towel dry and brush-through might take a while, but according to TikTok user @charlie_theblackshepherd, it’s all she needs to get both of her German Shepherds clean again after playing in dirt and mud. 

@charlie_theblackshepherd

This is our daily cleaning routine after hikes! A towel and brush is usually all it takes 🤌🏻 sometimes I hose them off, and rarely do they need a full bath! #dog #routine #dogsoftiktok #doglover #germanshepherd #gsdoftiktok #dogtok #dogbath

♬ She Share Story (for Vlog) – 山口夕依

5. No dog shampoo? Invest in waterless products

This tip might not help you in an emergency, but as a preventative measure, it’s a good idea to stock up on pet wipes or waterless dog shampoo, which is basically the same ad dry shampoo for humans. Pet wipes are particularly popular with dog owners online, since they’re helpful for cleaning dogs that shy away from getting wet. You never know when your pooch might get into a mess — rather than risk damaging their skin barrier, you can spot-clean Fido with waterless shampoo and petsafe wipes until you’re able to restock on dog shampoo. 

Easy grooming whether you have shampoo or not

no dog shampoo what can I use:Woman combs old Golden Retriever dog with a metal grooming comb
sonsam/Getty

Bathing your dog is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about dog grooming, but it’s really only one part of the puzzle. Other grooming tasks, such as proper brushing and drying, are equally important for keeping your pup happy and healthy. 

Imagine if you washed your hair every day but never actually combed it or brushed it out. Sure, your hair would be clean, but it also would likely be pretty tangled and matted! The same concept applies to your pets. Without properly brushing your dog’s coat, you’re only doing half the job of grooming them. 

“In my opinion, the most important part of caring for your dog is drying after the bath,” says Molly Bissantz, owner and groomer at Grooming by Molly. “While it can be tedious, especially for long-haired dogs, it’s the most important step.” 

Rather than towel-drying and then brushing, Bissantz recommends brushing out your dog’s coat as you dry it to prevent tangles and matting. She also advises using a hair dryer to speed up the process (if your dog can tolerate the noise, of course). “Remember with longer-haired breeds to squeeze the towel rather than rub their coat with it,” Bissantz adds. “And for double-coated breeds like German Shepherds, it’s especially important to dry them properly.” 

Equally as important as thoroughly drying your dog is rinsing out any products used during the bath, says Dr. Myers. She also recommends diluting the shampoo to begin with. 

“Use only a small amount of shampoo, and dilute it in a couple of cups of water before applying,” Dr. Myers says. “And rinse thoroughly. Leaving residue may dry or irritate your dog’s skin and be itchy.” 

How to make bath time a breeze 

Regular baths and brush-outs might be important for your dog’s health, but that doesn’t mean they know that. If your dog resists getting in the tub or runs away from you as soon as the brush comes out, there are a few things you can do to make bath time a bit easier for both you and your canine. 

“Like humans, dogs should have regular grooming routines,” says Dennis. “You’ll want to ensure this is a pleasant experience for your dog — and safety is also important.” He recommends using a non-slip bath mat to reinforce your dog’s sense of grip and prevent them from sliding around in the tub, which can be stressful for an animal. 

Happy dog getting washed
Chalabala/Getty

“Keep the water temperature between 75-95 degrees Fahrenheit, and avoid getting any shampoo in your pet’s eyes,” Dennis adds. As for exactly how often you should bathe your dog, the answer is likely much less frequently than you’d expect. Rinse and groom your dog as often as needed, especially if you’re allergic to pet dander, or your dog is a big shedder. But as far as soaping up your canine companion? Every few weeks should be just fine.

“It’s perfectly fine to go weeks or even months without bathing your dog, as long as they haven’t gotten into anything foul,” Dr. Myers says. “Unless your dog is on a medicated shampoo for a skin condition and your vet has given you different directions, avoid bathing a healthy dog more than every other week.” 


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